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Do I have the right to refuse dangerous work related to COVID-19?

This question is from a series of questions and answers on Worker Rights and Strategies for Staying Safe During COVID-19 created by National COSH to support workers during the pandemic.

DO I HAVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE DANGEROUS WORK RELATED TO COVID-19?

  • Workers have a right to refuse dangerous work under the OSHA Act. But this can be a hard case to prove so requires careful adherence to the process of refusal. Also, any complaints related to retaliation from the employer have to be filed within 30 days of the reprisal.
  • Your right to refuse to do a task is protected if all of the following conditions are met:
    • Where possible, you have asked the employer to eliminate the danger, and the employer failed to do so; and
    • You refused to work in “good faith.” This means that you must genuinely believe that an imminent danger exists; and
    • A reasonable person would agree that there is a real danger of death or serious injury; and
    • There isn’t enough time, due to the urgency of the hazard, to get it corrected through regular enforcement channels, such as requesting an OSHA inspection.
  • Collective action is also bolstered further by workers’ right to “concerted activities for… mutual aid or protection” under the National Labor Relations Act, which governs most private sector employment.  The Labor Board agrees that “participating in a concerted refusal to work in unsafe conditions” is protected.
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